FRI, 09 JUN 1995 20:52:42 GMT
Relations between the Slovenian state and the Catholic Church
Ljubljana, June 6, 1995 Judging by everything the Catholic Church in Slovenia is trying to get from the state on account of the "fifty-year long communist dictatorship", someone might think that Slovenia will become the most religious (not society but) social system in Europe. The fact that the former socialistic system pushed the Church completely to the margins of social developments, the Church is using now as a crucial argument for its maximalist demands, and places representatives of the state in an awkward position accusing them of being remnants of the former regime who are still fighting against religion, for any, even the slightest disagreement or dilemma concerning the proposals made by the Church. When mentioning the Church, it should be stressed that the Slovene Catholic Church is implied which has the largest portion of its believers in Slovenia. And although discussions about this issue were topical for quite some time, in the first half of June, the atmosphere in the parliament became extremely tense because of a draft law submitted by the known leader of the Slovene National Party, Zmago Jelincic and his party and life companion, Polonca Dobrajc, whose text of the draft law prescribes that return of property to the Church be temporarily interrupted.
The story about returning the Church its property started to reach the public last year, when opinions of several representatives of the Slovene Catholic Church were heard claiming that these had been just empty promises and that the state returned practically nothing to the Church. And all the time, the story concerns mainly the forests. In July 1994, for instance, a report was put together according to which only 943 hectars of forests were returned to the Church, while the Catholic Church demanded to have 36,000 hectars of forests returned to it, which had allegedly been taken away from it. Allegedly, because the data about what the Church in Slovenia really possessed before the Second World War vary a great deal. In the circles around the Church, allegations are supported by papers of the most influential Slovene politician between the two world wars, Anton Korosec, who donated most of the forests to the Church. Zmago Jelincic has a counterargument for that: "Legal documents of Korosec are not valid because they were not ratified by the assembly of the Kingdom of Yugoslavia at the time. Namely, the attempt of Mr Korosec to return these forests to the church before the beginning of the war in 1939, was contrary to the existing laws of the Kingdom", Jelincic claims. That is what Jelincic's discussion, as a deputy in the Slovene parliament, was about concerning his draft law about temporary interruption of returning the property to the Church, but soon he experienced an obstruction of the work of the parliament. Namely, Christian Democrats and a part of the opposition (Podobnik's Nationalists, Jansa's Social Democrats, and some other individuals from smaller opposition parties of the Slovene Rightists left the parliament hall so that it was impossible to either discuss or reach a decision without the quorum.
"It is quite clear to me why representatives of the mentioned parties are defending the Church. It wants to get 36 thousand hectars of Slovene forests. This can reach the value of seven billion German marks! And with that kind of money you can buy anything - the elections, political parties, voters... This is another attempt of the Church to become the most powerful economic subject in Slovenia, because everyone knows that who has the money has the power", Jelincic warns. And on the other hand, he asks the question whether the Church deserves the trust of a secure keeper and manager of the forests. If we leave aside the fact that the states of the European Union on the average own about 40 per cent of their forests, and in Slovenia, if all 36 hectars were donated to the church, the state would have only 20 per cent of the so-called public wooded areas left. There are also certain financial operations which raise serious doubts about the Catholic Church as a good master. Recently, an information leaked out in public that the Catholic Church invested big money into the latest printing works in Zrnuce near Ljubljana. It took a loan for it from the Peasants' Bank and mortgaged 2880 hectars of forests for it. Let us imagine what would have happened if the Church, for instance, instead of the loan from the Peasants' Bank, had taken a loan from the Austrian Bank which is one of the most powerful banks in Ljubljana, and that all these forests had fallen to the share of the Austrians...
And not just that. The issue here is how come the Church believes it is a state within the state? The fact that parties of Demos won the first multiparty elections in Slovenia and they were intimately linked to the Catholic Church, enabled it to behave like that, because the new authorities have tolerated the practice of a few years ago. Polonca Dobrajc and Zmago Jelincic warn: "Where have you seen that the state pays for building churches, that the money from the state budget goes for the Church secondary school... and that on the other hand, the Church pays no taxes, nor allocates any income, has no current account with the state agency for payment operations and similar?" And while any worker, even those who earn just for their bare sustenance are obliged to pay taxes for thier income, and the Church pays no taxes, some even demanded that the so-called church tax be introduced. It is a tax paid by all the citizens who have declared themselves as Catholics in Austria and Germany (which are often models for Slovene Catholics). The tax is collected by Church institutions in Austria, and in Germany it is done by the state through its tax system and tax inspection service. When this proposal met with sharp criticism of a part of the public which was acquainted with the proposal, Monsignor Martin Springer, manager of Ljubljana Archbishopric estates, stressed that even the bishops were against it, but proposed the Italian model of financing the Church. Contrary to the Austrian and the German model, in Italy, each tax payer decides independently, while filling out the tax return form, what 0.8 per cent of his total taxes will be invested in - social or humanitarian purposes or as assistance to the religious communities. Martin Springer assesses that the Catholic Church in Slovenia would in this manner get significant funds, which he believes are necessary for its normal operation, because a large majority of Slovenes are Catholic. The Catholic Church in Slovenia claims that it lives quite modestly, only on donations of the believers. How much money the Church actually has is known only to it alone, because its money and financial dealings are not subject to any control at all.
A proposal coming from the Church itself should be added to all these proposals - the one about introduction of catechism in schools. Polemics about it are present for a long time and it is resisted the most. At first catechism was openly discussed, then the potential school subject was renamed into religious ethical teaching, and the essence of the issue was that the Church demanded that it be taught by teachers from the Catholic Theological Faculty. This idea was opposed, among other, by the ruling Liberal Democracy explaining its stance by persisting on lay schools based on Article 7 of the Slovene Constitution which divides religious communities from the state. They also warned that members of many other religious commnunities also live in Slovenia and that teaching about different religions would be much more appropriate, so the pupils would acquire some knowledge about creeds in the space where they live, but those existing in the world as well. The polemics about it is not over yet, but judging by the relation of power in the society, it is hardly possible that catechism will become part of school curricula.
All things considered, despite its strong Catholic tradition, Slovenia will preserve the lay foundation of its state, and assign the Church the role it plays in most of the other democratic states.
Janja Klasinc, AIM